Permaculture Tip of the Day – Insulation and Thermal Mass

Many people have come to permaculture to gain a better understanding of natural, recycled, and sustainable house design. When building structures with a permaculture viewpoint, the structure will work seamlessly and integrate into the already earth’s natural systems such as solar aspects, prevailing winds, convection, and gravity. It is very beneficial, when building with natural, recycled, or man made materials, to understand the differences between thermal mass and insulation and how they will effect heating and cooling in the different climate regions.
Thermal mass is a dense material that temperature will travel through quickly. For example if we put a hot fire on the end of a solid steel pipe then it is just a short matter of time when you will not be able to touch the other end of the pipe as it will be too hot. Steel is a great conductor of temperature. This happens because the molecules in a dense material are very close together. Other materials that are dense and are used for thermal mass are earth, compressed earth, metal, rocks, cement, and water.
Insulation is just the opposite. Insulation, preferably either made of or wrapped with a water proof material, is a material that is filled with many air pockets. It is difficult for temperature to jump through the air at any fast rate of speed or time. Thus hampering the ability for temperature to enter into or out of insulation quickly. Some material used regularly are straw bales, crumpled up newspapers stuffed into plastic bags, plastic bags crumpled into plastic bags, old carpets or other textiles, and polyiso insulation.
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